Twitter for Peer Review

A recent Nature News article by Geoff Brumfiel (Science journalism: Supplanting the old media?) has stirred up many interesting discussions about the relationship of science blogging and traditional science journalism. Good starting places to follow these discussions (and engage in them) are Technorati, Nature.com Blogs and FriendFeed.

Science blogging extends, but also threatens traditional science journalism. At the same time, aggregators and microblogging services such as FriendFeed, Twitter, but also Facebook also are both an enhancementent and a threat to science blogs. Instead of writing blog posts or commenting on them, many science bloggers spend increasing amounts of time with these services, e.g. in The Life Scientists room on FriendFeed.

But microblogging and aggregation services have also emerged as new tools for another area of science communication, namely the peer review process. The interaction between authors and editors or editors and reviewers traditionally happens via email (because peer review is usually anonymous, authors don't communicate directly with reviewers). Twitter and similar tools fullfill the requirement for privacy (in the form of direct messages and private rooms and special services for organizations such as Yammer).

What are the advantages of these tools for the peer review process? All communications can be stored in one place in the form of a discussion thread. FriendFeed and Facebook allow users to mark posts they like and this can show agreement between reviewers. Messages can also be sent to and from non-traditional devices such as cell phones. Many senior researchers are already overworked with peer review, so this way they can at least post their reviews from the golf course or their yacht. And authors want to learn about their accepted paper as soon as possible, and this is not necessarily when they sit in front of their computer.

But most importantly, microblogging enforces brevity. Virginia Walbot recently complained in a Journal of Biology comment (Are we training pit bulls to review our manuscripts?) about reviewers

dismissing the years of labor and stating that the manuscript can only be reconsidered with substantially more data providing definitive proof of each claim.

As Twitter messages (also known as tweets) can only be 140 characters long, reviewers are forced to write short reviews, and editors to write short notes to the authors. And if the 140 characters aren't enough, they can always point to other places with services like bit.ly.

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10 Responses to Twitter for Peer Review

  1. Richard P. Grant says:

    That’s brilliant, Martin. We’d be able to publish more papers—or at least have them rejected more quickly, too. And it would make Henry’s job easier (although getting him to say anything in fewer than 140 characters might be difficult).
    Are any journals actually implementing this, do you know? Who do you think will be first?

  2. Henry Gee says:

    I’ve got into the shit about blogging and interwebz several times, but the biggest shit I landed in was when I announced to the world that I’d rejected a paper on my iPhone. Rejecting a ms by tweet would be great – but appeals would come quickly and in the same form.

  3. Mike Fowler says:

    Pah! Overkill! Who needs 140 characters anyway. “Reject” only needs 6.
    I liked the pit bull commentary. However, if I’d been asked to review it, it would have been met with a resounding 6 characters. -Bullsh- Lovely.

  4. Martin Fenner says:

    Henry, I remember the iPhone incident (“This iPost has been iRemoved”:http://network.nature.com/people/henrygee/blog/2008/09/10/this-ipost-has-been-iremoved). But actually you were just ahaid of your time.
    Richard, most journals will probably not like to admit that they use tools like Twitter for peer review.

  5. Maxine Clarke says:

    So it goes something like:
    @R1: will you review this?
    @R2: will you review this?
    ;
    ;
    ;
    @R22: will you review this@
    @E: Looks OK but fig 3 too blurry and they don’t reference my crucial work in this area specif [cut]
    @E: Where is the supplementary info
    @R22: Can’t seem to attach file
    @E: Oh never mind then, OK to publish I need to get to Friend Feed before it closes
    @A: OK, sort out gel and add a few refs then shd B OK
    @E: Here is revised version
    Oh I give up…..@ACCEPT! TWIT TO PRODUCTION

  6. Maxine Clarke says:

    Yikes, something happened with textile language above and ruined my joke. Twitter needs a preview.

  7. Jonathan Eisen says:

    I still think this is a great idea. If we want language to evolve, what better way to do it than to put severe constrains on it?

  8. Martin Fenner says:

    FriendFeed was the inspiration to start F5PR or *F* riend *F* eed *F* or *F* ast and *F* urious *P* eer *R* eview. *F5PR* promises to have the paper reviewed and back to the author in _hours_ and not _weeks_.

  9. Bob O'Hara says:

    Why stop at the refereeing process? Writing papers as tweets might be a bit much, but how about the abstract? e.g. “this abstract in a tweet”:http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v431/n7011/abs/nature03001.html:
    bq. GTGGCAAAGA CATCTGAGTT CCCCGGATAT AAGGTGGGAA GATGGTATTT CATATGGCTC TGGTCCGACC GAGGCATTAA CACTTTTACT GTTTCCTGAG GTCCTGAACT GGGTTTCCGA etc Phew

  10. María José Navarrete-Talloni says:

    It is a great idea!… it will keep editors busy and connected! PERRRRFECT! ;-) They will only use short terms now, and no politically correct phrases to reject the incoming articles: _”the data you presented was extremely interesting but does not fulfill our journal… (ideas, concepts, purposes, topic of the month or whatever)”_
    Now, they will send you to *hell* in a few words… I like it!
    (but you can also get accepted with few words, right?… _don’t forget the nice side of life!_)